Francis Cagigao was born in London in 1969 and has dual nationality. Although he feels more Spanish than English, he played for youth teams at both Arsenal and Barcelona B and was an international in lower categories with Spain under 19 and under 20.
Despite a brief stint as a player, his vocation was always to be a coach and scout.
He started working at Arsenal in 1995 and was one of Arsene Wenger’s right-hand men for 21 years. During this time, he was instrumental in recruiting and convincing players like Cesc Fábregas, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Robin van Persie, Granit Xhaka, William Saliba, and Gabriel Martinelli to join the club.
“He played for Ituano, an hour and a half from São Paulo,” Cagigao said of Martinelli.
“We had him on the radar since grassroots football. We had doubts, but I started going to see him and he totally convinced me.
“Manchester United could sign him, but they didn’t, and Barça too, because he was testing at La Masía, but they ruled him out and we went in there with force so he wouldn’t escape.”
Cagigao’s vocation for analysing teams and players started when he was still a young player. After realising that he would not go any further as a player, he began to get his coaching qualifications and was already coaching U-19 teams.
When he started working at Arsenal, he was in charge of scouting in Spain and Portugal and was able to continue training and running a soccer school.
Arsene Wenger revolutionised English football when he arrived and Cagigao was a key part of that revolution.
“There is an Arsenal before Wenger and another after him,” Cagigao said.
“The current Arsenal could not be understood without his presence there for so many years.
“I think he revolutionised English football when he arrived and he is the most successful coach in the club’s history, winning three leagues, eight cups, being a Champions League finalist… and he did it with budgets that today would be considered ridiculous.
“As a result of the construction of the stadium, the board of directors told Arsene that he had to sell players each season and incorporate young people to pay for the stadium, but he also had to qualify the team for the Champions League.
“Arsene did it for 20 years.”
Cagigao also recommended Mikel Arteta to the Arsenal hierarchy. “The club managers asked me for a coach and I gave his name,” Cagigao said. “He had the vocation and the spirit for it. My opinion was clear. He seemed like a great coach to me, just like Unai Emery seems to me.”
His first signing for Arsenal was Lauren and the second was José Antonio Reyes. He has seen many talented players in his career as a scout, but the one that impressed him – and angered him for missing out on – the most was Lionel Messi.
He saw Messi play for the first time at the MIC tournament in Lloret de Mar when Messi was just 15 years old and already a phenomenon. Although he tried to sign Messi for Arsenal, it was not possible due to work permit issues.
“Messi’s situation was not regulated and it was impossible for him to have a work permit in the UK,” he explained. “He had several meetings with Horacio Gaggioli, his representative at the time, but it was impossible.”
Despite this, Cagigao was able to sign Cesc Fábregas from the same team. He also tried to sign Fernando Torres but it didn’t work out.
One player that Cagigao considers a fallen talent is José Antonio Reyes himself. Reyes played at a very high level for teams like Arsenal, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Benfica, and won many titles, but Cagigao believes he could have gone even further.
“In the first training session with Arsenal, he already impressed the entire coaching staff and his new teammates,” Cagigao said. “He was a wonderful footballer.”
The signing that Cagigao is most proud of is Emily Martinez, a goalkeeper that he saw play in a South American U-17 championship in Chile.
And what of Martin Odegaard? “Odegaard was affected by arriving at Madrid so young.
“He had a lot of responsibility and pressure for a boy with little experience. That shirt weighs a lot and a footballer needs a point of maturity to consecrate himself in that demanding club.
“Maybe it was too soon. He is now one of the best creative midfielders in the world.”
In recent years, Cagigao was working as the sports director of the Chilean Federation.
However, he did not extend his contract with the Chilean Football Association (FA) after declining a reduced salary offer. Chile’s lack of success in World Cup qualifying, finishing seven points from automatic qualification, led to a reduced salary offer for Cagigao, who left his role at the end of December.
Back home now, waiting to decide his next move, his impact on the world of scouting and the careers of many talented footballers will not be forgotten.
He is reportedly seeking a return to Europe to be closer to his family and has received an offer from Major League Soccer (MLS).